Wednesday, March 16, 2022

A special request for St. Patrick's Day

Dingle Peninsula, Ireland. Licensed from Depositphotos

Growing up outside of Boston in the 1970s and 1980s in a (mostly) Irish-American family, St. Patrick's Day was a big deal. As with other North American cities that had large Irish-American populations, people with roots in rural Ireland wanted to celebrate their heritage. St. Patrick's Day was the special day to do it. 

The celebrations were well-intentioned, but could also be superficial or even out of control. 

We kids would wear green clothing and greet each other with "Erin go Bragh" (Anglicization of the Gaelic Éire go Brách, “Ireland till the end of time”). We would also indulge in junk food with green food coloring, including green cookies, green cake, and the infamous Shamrock Shake

The adults wore green, too. Some put on T-shirts and plastic hats that said "Kiss me, I'm Irish." There was a huge parade in South Boston, as well as Irish music performances and banquets around town. 

That said, the main attraction on March 17 seemed to be the partying on the sidelines of the parade, or heavy drinking in the bars, which could get wild. Very wild.

As Boston's demographics have changed, the parades are smaller and the wearing of green are not as common. But the revelry seems to be just as crazy

In Ireland itself, St. Patrick's Day was once a subdued religious holiday, commemorating both Saint Patrick's death and the arrival of Christianity. In addition to attending Mass and wearing green, people would have a special meal even though it was Lent. In recent years, though, the celebrations have looked to America for inspiration, and taken on a more lurid, commercial tinge.

Shop window in Ireland on St. Patrick's Day

It's disappointing that a day honoring a saint and intended to recognize one's Irish heritage has become a big excuse to party. It seems hollow.

So, can I make a special request for St. Patrick's Day this year?

Instead of celebrating the superficial aspects of March 17, how about making an effort to recognize Ireland's history, culture, and spiritual life?

If you have Irish roots, take things a step further. Think about your ancestors' journey to a new land and a new life, and record their stories. Dig out those old photos, documents, and genealogy records, and make an effort to preserve them for the next generation.

St. Patrick, I think, would approve.

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